In the summer of 2021, former President Trump gave a speech at the North Carolina GOP State Conference. He aired his usual routine of grievances about the 2020 Presidential election, pushing baseless claims about election fraud by Democrats.
But one line drew especially strong applause from the crowd, opening eyes across the country: “I am not the one trying to undermine American democracy,” he said. “I’m the one trying to save it. Please remember that.”
In yet another Orwellian volley, Trump and his political allies are positioning themselves as the protectors of democracy. They view the Republican base of white Christians as legitimate political actors and the Democratic base—multicultural, secular, educated, and urban—as illegitimate. The Republican base feels it is in an existential crisis, a fight for what America represents as a country, which partially explains the Republican shift towards authoritarian politics. A poll from the American Enterprise Institute found that nearly 4 in 10 Republicans agreed that if leaders couldn’t be trusted to protect the country, violence would be necessary to protect America.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s election police proposal fits squarely within the narrative of the “Big Lie.” The propagators of the lie claim that Democrats use election fraud to defeat Republicans and rule illegitimately. In reality, election fraud is exceedingly rare and nowhere near the amount necessary to influence electoral outcomes. But that hasn’t stopped Trump or the Republicans who follow him from using the lie as a pretext to shut their political opponents out of the participatory process. The most recent attempt is through the creation of a state police task force which would investigate claims of election fraud. Governor DeSantis is asking the state legislature to set aside $5.7 million for the venture.
Voting rights groups say that it would serve as a political weapon for the Republican Party. “They don’t have a lot of safeguards to keep this from being politicized and weaponized,” said Brad Ashwell, who is the Florida state director for All Voting is Local, a voting rights organization. Joe Scott, the elections supervisor in Broward County, also voiced concerns. “It sounds like they are going to focus on grassroots organizations, the type of organizations that go out and do voter registration drives,” he said.
If the election police proposal becomes law in Florida, voting rights organizations could become targeted by Republican politicians. And Florida isn’t the only state looking at adding a controversial election police unit. Former Georgia Senator David Perdue, who is running in the Republican primary to become the state’s next Governor, is also advocating for the proposal in his state. It is likely that other Republican states will follow, especially with former President Trump pushing for more voting restrictions prior to elections and ‘audits’ after they end. If Republican-led states begin enacting election police proposals, it would make it even harder for marginalized groups to exercise their right to vote.